Thursday, January 23, 2014

Captain My Captain

What's it all about, this Captain thing?

When you begin your derby career choosing the Captain is not something you feel very sure about. You're still learning the game, you probably don't really know all the girls on your team yet and may not yet know the role of the Captain. It may seem like a popularity contest. For your first Captain vote you are likely to choose someone who you already actually know, and is nice, and has been playing longer then you.

As you continue your derby career you learn lots about game play and skills, and you learn about your team and league, and the duties which need to be fulfilled. You play more games with your team and it becomes apparent that the Captain actually does things. It's likely your Captain is the one who tells you whether you have been rostered for a game and what lines you are on. It's also hard to miss that during a game they and the Assistant Captain are the only ones who can call time outs or official reviews. They have a Captains meeting before the game. Your Captain will be the one leading your game warm up, trying to make you all look awesome and scary, as well as testing out the floor (with stops, lateral movements, transitions and quicks starts) so you know what you'll be dealing with as you skate the game. Your Captain is also likely to give a talk before the game, a sort of team spirit rah-rah-rah, and then a pick me up at the half to mention areas that are going well and what isn't and what to try in the second half. At the end of the game your Captain should give a game wrap up talk; super positive no matter win or lose, we did our best, feel good about yourself. There is time at the next practice and through team chats online to discuss areas that need work.

What sort of responsibilities your Captain has outside of the game depends a little bit on your league. Some Captains plan and lead practices, some work with a coach to do this or even have a coach that does this entirely. But, even if your Captain doesn't plan the practices she should be extra aware of what is going on during the games, how the games are being played, where the problems in the game are, who works well together, who is not working well together, what strategies are working well or not, areas the team is lacking and areas the team is excelling. She should also be paying attention to how her teammates react to practices and continue to try and build them to better fulfill the needs of her skaters (or pass this info on to the one who does). And, wether or not your Captain runs/plans practices there are things outside of the game which will fall in her lap. These are the things that are much more nebulous then having the duty of calling timeouts at a game, non-game duties are all about making sure the team is happy, cohesive and working hard.

A good Captain is always trying to find ways to make sure her team is motivated, and trying to push them higher. This means being critical, positive and fair; helping them to see where they need work and making sure to notice where they are doing well, applauding their effort and improvements. This also means that a good Captain is always doing their best to be the best example of a good player; attending practices, being a positive teammate, taking criticism well and always giving one hundred percent effort. No one said it was easy to be a good Captain.

A good Captain is paying attention and notices when there is unrest in her team and nips it in the bud before it becomes a problem. It is at times difficult to see problems, as skaters are trying to put their best foot forward in front of you and not complain or whine (if you're doing your job), but if you keep communication open and make sure to listen when skaters talk to you, problems become apparent. A good Captain pays attention to each team member as an individual, so she knows things like who gets nervous before the game and could use a hug, and who needs attention after the game to not beat themselves up over small errors.

So, if this is what a Captain is, what person would best fulfil this role? Well, first of all, no one will fulfill this role perfectly all the time. We are all but human and there is a lot of stuff on that list and I'm sure I will think of more things that I missed. But, when looking for someone to be the best Captain that they can be, there are a few personality traits that make sense. Your Captain is likely going to be a born leader. This is not to say that it would be impossible for a quieter, less leader-y type of person to do this job (and do it well), as with all things there is never only one way to do a job well, but generally speaking someone who is comfortable speaking in front of groups, and taking a leadership role is better suited to the Captain role. In derby, these type of alpha women are not hard to find, and it is usually those women who are nominated in the first place.

Another personality trait that lends itself very well to the Captain position is someone who is very good at remaining calm in chaotic situations. As we all know games can get our blood boiling, with bad calls (or calls we feel are bad) or difficult game play or frustrating surfaces (I hate you when I'm blocking sport court! Love you when I'm jamming). It is great to have someone on the bench who is not too emotional and can be the calming wave when emotions are running high. It is also fortuitous to have a Captain who is VERY positive. This does not mean a non-critical Captain, but one who is simply an all around positive person. There is nothing better then someone who can see the best in every situation for helping a team stay bright and looking to the best of any difficult game or practice situation.

One of the most important things for a Captain to be is team oriented. That is, someone who really, truly is making decisions based on what she feels is best for the team. That means with rostering, making lines, deciding on strategies and figuring out practices. Things don't always work out the way we mean them to, and every decision a Captain makes is not going to be the right one, but if it is obvious to the team that those decisions are made FOR the team, with the TEAM's best in mind, that's a good Captain.

I have seen some great examples of good and bad Captains. The worst Captain I have personally seen was one who, in practices, was very laid back, didn't really plan very much (if anything) made out like it was no big deal if the team won or lost and didn't herself seem to be trying in the practices (in fact sometimes wouldn't even skate would just come and hang out). Then, come game time, she brought out the big guns. Yelling in the locker room at the team things like "you should know this!" and making the team feel like a big bunch of losers for not  knowing the plays or getting confused about game play and for not winning. So, she had created a situation and then was angry at her team for what she had created. Definitely not the kind of Captain you want.

I have also seen a number of Captains who have great points and some not so great points; too critical, not critical enough, not enough planning of practices, not enough positive feedback, not organized or not involved enough in the team (not taking the job seriously). But, none of us are perfect and it's always a balance between the "what's good" and "what's not" about whomever your Captain is. So, go ahead and vote for your Captains, but do think about what you need and what your team needs before you vote. As my good friend Keri Daway said, "It is not a personality contest and treating it as such belittles the job". It is an honour and should be treated as such, not only by the person who is in the role but also by those doing the voting.


  1. Great post.

    Its a hard gig! Not one to be taken lightly, either. Something about having experienced this role (including the training piece) offered something different but also helped me grow as a skater.

    Great to hear/see that you are doing well, old ToRD 2011 fresh meat pal! Instead of captaining this season, I'm now *just* co-head of ToRD's Training & Testing Committee (not completely dissimilar from captaining - just a different ship).

    Get in touch if you are interested chatting re: training ideas/ventures.

    - Scarcasm #431 (CN Power skater & Toronto Roller Derby)

    1. Thanks! I was just looking at your CN Power pic. :) that's awesome, good for you girl. I remember you were already looking great at FM. It's no surprise you've accomplished so much. Good for you.

      Being in charge of anything for your league is always an honour and a lot of responsibility. That's cool now I've got a connection, ;) definitely interested to find out more.